Hmm. Maybe I should explain the behind-the-scenes creative process here. What happens is: I let the creative demons fly, then I let some creative angels out to chase after them. (Or sometimes just my dogs, if I’m low on angels.) Anyway, I get something to go take those demons out—so don’t worry, your kids are safe—while I run alongside and observe. I loosely transcribe my observations, render them in photo-negative, and tie-dye the whole thing, which I then shred into 100 thin strips. I rearrange those strips in my brain, tape them together with some brain tape, and before you know it…it’s Monday, I’ve got a head full of brain tape, and I still haven’t written anything.
That may have been a bit of a tangent. As I was saying, when I wrote my last column about self-help books that have influenced me, I ended up leaving out the book that gave me the idea for that column in the first place. Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World contains a whole lot of ideas about how to wrest control of your life from the forces that surround you, but only one of those ideas really soaked into my mind and changed the way I behave on a daily basis. It was that fact–that only one out of maybe 100 recommendations in the book survived the test of time–which inspired me to think of the one lesson I got from some other books. And in the process, Harry’s one suggestion got shafted—because believe it or not, the creative process described above sometimes results in misplacing an idea or two.
Hmmm…I hope that wasn’t also a tangent. I’d hate to think that I’m wasting your time—since as we all know, time is money. Which is not a tangent, because that was Harry Browne’s winning point: consider your time as though it actually was money. Because in reality, it kind of could be, right? You already trade your time and effort for money, and you could probably trade even more of it if you wanted to, despite current economic conditions. There are a good 80 hours or more of workable energy in a given human’s week, once you strip out the sleeping and eating and showers and stuff. And in theory (at least in the U.S.), you could trade all that time in for at least $10 an hour or so. If you’ve raised your market value through experience or education, that number could easily be more like $50 an hour, or even $250 an hour.
In practical terms, Harry’s point was that you should always weigh the cost of standing around thinking about economic choices, and the time and effort it takes to get whatever thing it is you may want to buy. One specific rule of his related to standing in the supermarket, trying to decide if you should spend more for the larger size of something, or get generic vs. brand-quality to save a little extra, that sort of thing. His rule was that if the overall cost of the choice was less than $10, he simply would not spend any time worrying over which to buy. And as for going to another store to get something for a dollar or two less–no way. He also—cover your ears, Mom!—completely besmirched coupons on the same time-based grounds. Spend enough of your time on a 25-cent coupon and it ends up costing you money before very long. (After 91 seconds in fact, based on a $10 hour.)
Back when I first read Browne’s book, my economic value was in the meager $6-an-hour range, but I couldn’t deny his logic, at least in theoretical terms. I set a notion that I should think of my time as being worth originally 10, then later 20 dollars an hour. Eventually those things actually became true, and now my time can be traded for even more than that, if I want it to be. (Which, oddly enough, I often don’t.) And I do find myself doing the financial mental math on a regular basis—especially while doing things like sitting on hold with some customer service department. More than a few customer service reps have had Harry Browne’s time-economics lessons very firmly explained to them by yours truly.
I make sure to give the rule a break sometimes…a lot of times, really. I still walk with my dogs about two hours every day–and I simply don’t ask myself if it’s worth the $40-100 or more I could theoretically be earning during that time. And I don’t really apply the rule when watching movies and TV either (but that’s because I’m a “screenwriter”, and it’s “research”, and thus totally justified).
I do definitely apply the time-is-money rule in the store aisles though. Harry Browne died a few years ago, but whenever I find myself staring at the prices on the supermarket shelves for more than 30 seconds, he shows up on my shoulder in little angel form and screams: “It’s only a couple of dollars difference – PICK ONE AND MOVE ON!” (Except he’s in tiny angel form, so it’s this little cute squeaky voice.) Then he dashes off to take out one of my loose creative demons. What can I say – the dude can multitask!
This column is featured in The Simplifier #5.11.